Monday, November 10, 2014

YA on Netflix

In honor of Catching Fire’s release to Netflix Streaming (not to mention the availability of Gilmore Girls that began earlier this month), I’m listing some other teen movies worth watching.*

I think this post needs a jumbo disclaimer: These movies are good by Netflix Streaming standards, which I judge on a completely different level than, say, movies I pay individually for. It’s hard not to rate them differently. If you have Netflix Streaming, you know what I mean.

It goes something like this: You spend two hours browsing movies that are mostly crap in an attempt to find the one gem worth watching. And if the movie you watch is just okay? Well, compared with the rest of the options, it seems Oscar worthy.

So none of these are knock-your-socks-off amazing. But none are terrible, either. Some are surprisingly good. Next time you’re playing the endless-scroll game on Netflix and feel like a movie that could have been a YA book (or was a YA book), consider these:

Netflix says: An American teen’s summer romance with an English boy comes to an abrupt end when rumors of World War III become a reality.
I say: Based on Meg Rosoff’s phenomenal book of the same name, this movie sticks pretty close to the original storyline. Of all the movies listed here, this is particularly well done.

Netflix says: At a wild party, new high school graduates celebrate and ponder the future—including a love-struck dork who makes his move on the class beauty.
I say: The quintessential ’90s teen movie, this one is full of all the love, angst, and excitement that comes with graduation. Also, it features an adorable Ethan Embry and hilarious Seth Green.

Netflix says: Popular high school diva Dylan gains a new perspective on life when geeky wannabe filmmaker Josh makes her the subject of his documentary.
I say: It’s everything you’d expect from a Disney Channel movie. But who can resist a good makeover montage?

Netflix says: Natalie is high school royalty, but her status crumbles when she falls for—and soon befriends—new guy Keith, who seems to be hiding something.
I say: This one surprised me. I expected a Disney Channel–type flick and got something a little less bubble gum and a lot more emotion.

Netflix says: Aware that she's losing her battle with cancer, a teenager throws herself headlong into life while she still can, even embarking on a torrid romance.
I say: A good, sad film for those who loved The Fault In Our Stars. Both leads do a great job, but the book—Before I Die by Jenny Downham—is better.

Netflix says: While visiting Los Angeles, a rural teen gets an unexpected bonus when she crosses paths with the pop star her sister has been trying in vain to meet.
I say: This is possibly the most Disney of all Disney Channel movies, complete with a catchy pop song you’ll want to erase from your brain afterward. But it’s cute and fun, like a quick YA beach read.

Netflix says: Ex-skateboarder Kim Matthews is transplanted to the world of alpine sports, an environment she finds foreign ... until she tries snowboarding.
I say: A cute, funny film with a female lead (Felicity Jones) you can’t help but love. Gossip Girl fans, Ed Westwick plays the love interest, and while I don’t find him dreamy or charming or whatever, he’s likable in this role.

Netflix says: Jock and class president Zack accepts his friends' wager to make over geeky, bespectacled Laney into a prom queen beauty—with unexpected results.
I say: As much as I think Freddie Prinze Jr.’s acting is, as always, atrocious, I can’t help but love this movie. Also, it teaches a good lesson: You, too, can have a boyfriend if you’d take out the damn ponytail and buy some contacts. #GirlPower

Netflix says: The bard’s dialogue remains intact in this modern take on William Shakespeare’s tragedy, as the children of two feuding families are drawn together.
I say: Look, I’ve noticed Netflix Streaming carries that new Romeo and Juliet with Hailee Steinfeld and that boy with the pretty face, but no. Leonardo DiCaprio. Claire Danes. Baz Luhrmann. There will never be a better version of this. And after almost 20 years,** it’s still awesome.

What’s your favorite YA-type movie on Netflix Streaming?

* One of the best teen movies ever, Mean Girls, is no longer available on Netflix Streaming. Do yourself a favor and skip Mean Girls 2. I know you hope it’ll be like the original. Trust me, I do. But those are 96 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.

** Raise your hand if that just made you feel ancient.

Monday, November 3, 2014

An Assassin Like You've Never Read Before

Several months ago, NetGalley sent me a pre-approval for a book called I Am the Weapon. I’d never heard of the book (maybe because the original title was Boy Nobody), but the blurb hooked me. Tell me this doesn’t sound awesome:
Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school in a new town under a new name, makes a few friends and doesn’t stay long. Just long enough for someone to die—of “natural causes.” Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target. 
But when The Program assigns him to the mayor of New York City, things change. Somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and a girlfriend; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.
Let me just start by saying I’ve read about assassins before. Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series and Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassin trilogy are particularly well done. The bottom line: I’m all for an assassin main character.

But what struck me about Allen Zadoff’s protagonist—a teen boy who goes by Benjamin in the first book and Daniel in the next—is how cold and calculating he felt. I’m used to assassin main characters who have some qualms about killing, but Ben mostly keeps morality out of what he does.

He’s been stripped of everything that makes a 16-year-old boy a 16-year-old boy and is left with a single directive and the skills needed to reach his goal. He doesn’t have much of a personality—but it works.

The prose reflects this: It’s bare bones, with short sentences and quick chapters. Many paragraphs are a single line long. This doesn’t just kick up the pace, but it reflects Ben’s changing character (compare the opening of I Am the Weapon with I Am the Mission.)

That’s another thing I love about this book: the transformation we see in Ben. I so enjoyed being in his head that I was dreading the moment he embraced his emotions and became a “real boy.” But while Ben does transform over the course of the book (and during the second book, too), he doesn’t lose assassin personality. And that’s a good thing, because it was fascinating to immerse myself in the POV of someone who notices every detail and who analyzes situations in such a different way than most YA main characters.

It’s clear Zadoff did a lot of research because the details Ben reveals in his narrative feel natural and give pretty cool glimpses into the mind of a hired gun.

I know I’ve mostly talked about Ben, but that’s because he felt so different than other YA main characters, even other YA boys. That said, the plot is exciting and the ending surprising.

If you like the Bourne movies, you’ll enjoy I Am the Weapon. The sequel, I Am the Mission, is also great, and I can’t wait until book three releases next summer. Definitely a fast-paced thriller worth picking up.

Who’s your favorite YA assassin?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's Up Wednesday: Running From Trends

It’s time for What’s Up Wednesday again. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, here’s the deal: What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk for like-minded writers to meet and encourage one another. Everything you ever wanted to know about it (now, 50 percent off the retail price!) is right here.

Last week, Karen Akins’s debut novel, Loop, released. I fell in love with this book when it was still a baby, and I’m so excited it’s now out in the world. Expect a humorous voice, time travel that actually makes sense, and an adorable time-crossed romance between the main character and a former dork. Akins does well in setting up the parameters of time travel, setting some pretty strict rules, then intricately shows readers she knows what she’s doing.

I’m also waiting for my copy of Blue Lily, Lily Blue to arrive (I ordered a signed copy from Fountain Bookstore, which ships out of state). When I get my hands on that puppy I plan to disappear into the story. How I’ve missed those Raven Boys…

I’ve talked some about the YA fantasy I spent eons world-building and brainstorming and then writing. As of now, though, that’s on hold. It’s not just that a new idea plowed me over and begged to be written. (Though that happened.)

It has more to do with the fact that fantasy seems to be on the cusp of being the next big trend in YA lit. And, I know, plenty of people would write the fantasy because of the trend. But I’m querying a YA sci-fi right now when agents are feeling sci-fi fatigue, so I really, really don’t want to write a fantasy novel and run into the same problem.

The good news: I love my new idea. It’s YA magical realism about a group of teens who search for a treasure. I’m thinking of it as a cross between Goonies and Stand by Me, and while there’s a treasure hunt, it’s really about friendship. Obviously there’s kissing, too.

Listening to songs that have the same tone as my story is incredibly helpful to my brainstorming process. And when I find a song that perfectly encapsulates the mood of my story, it’s a major light-bulb moment for me.

If I had to put my story into a single song, it’d be 10,000 Maniacs’ “These Are the Days.” There’s this sense of anything-can-happen and being on the cusp of something really great that I hope to create in my novel.

I don’t intend for the story to be as positive as this song throughout the entire book, but I think a lot of what I want to do is give the reader the same edge-of-amazing feeling that this song does.

Here, have a totally cheesy ’90s music video. You may want to shut your eyes, though. That horrid sight might take away from the song.

Remember that wrist pain I mentioned a few months ago? Well, I’ve been in and out of the doctor, getting X-rays and MRIs and exams to figure out why typing is suddenly torture. And he’s the frustrating thing: According to my workups, there’s nothing wrong.

So, yeah, it’s good to know I don’t need surgery and don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome or wrist cysts or anything else. But I’m also frustrated that I have no idea what’s causing the pain, why, or how to treat it. For now, it appears I need to give my wrists a rest when they start hurting and taking time away from the computer.

What’s up with you?

Monday, October 27, 2014

The 777 Challenge


There’s this thing going around the writerly section of the Internet, a thing called the 777 Challenge. When Katy Upperman tagged me, I was mostly excited that:

A) I got to read her fantastic writing (seriously, check it out), and
B) I wasn’t asked to participate in the 666 Challenge, which sounds like a hellish assignment. Ha.*

Here’s the deal: The challenged writer (that would be me) must share seven lines of her work in progress, seven lines down the page on the seventh page.

I’m sort of cheating here. I haven’t quite written seven pages of my new WIP, a YA magical realism story that’s something like Goonies meets Stand by Me. So these lines are seven lines down on the last page I’ve written.

Also, a giant, neon-bright disclaimer: This excerpt is from a very, very rough draft. Rough as in not yet finished and never been edited. If you see a typo or crap writing, just shut your eyes and pretend it never happened, ’kay?

Dry, wrinkled fingers tighten around my wrist. “Are you seeing this, Ruby?” 
I lift my sunglasses and blink back the bright. The ocean is almost silver in the afternoon light, as if the sun has leeched color from the sea. A pointy finger pushes my cheek, and my head jerks to the left. 
“What a babe.” Her eyes follow Gabriel Nash in all his crisp-polo glory as he pushes the giant lawn mower with an almost innocent unawareness that other people, people like me, might struggle with the same task only to come away sweaty, wrinkled, and covered in grass clippings. “I always trust a man in a pair of pressed khaki slacks.” She slurps her milkshake then shoots me a serious look. “I bet he’s a very tidy kisser.” 
“Doris!” I should mention that Doris Lansing is one hundred and four years old.

And now I’m going to tag all of you. I love reading excerpts from writers’ WIPs, so I’m hoping you take the challenge!

* It’s okay to roll your eyes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What's Up Wednesday: Hello, Strangers

Hello, and yes I do still live here. It’s been so long since I blogged and I miss you all dearly, like Katniss* missed her impoverished district while inside the arena. Only you’re a lot nicer and funnier than that dystopian landscape and also your hair looks very pretty today.

Okay, so I’m back and jumping into What’s Up Wednesday again. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, here’s the deal: What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk for like-minded writers to meet and encourage one another. Everything you ever wanted to know about it (now, 50 percent off the retail price!) is right here.

Yesterday was a glorious day for books. I pretty much want to call in sick for the rest of the week and do nothing but read and read and read. Also, eat. But I’m a 21st-century woman. I can do both if I want to. I haven’t started all of these, but here’s what’s on my radar:


But I hate leaving you without a good book recommendation, so here it goes. The reason I’m psyched to read Ashes to Ashes is because I gobbled up the first two books in Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s series, Burn for Burn and Fire With Fire. I held off reading these for a long time, but the first book is available for free on Pulse It (for the time being), and I’m so glad I gave it a try.

The books are compulsively readable and hard not to speed through. There’s a hint of the paranormal that threw me a bit in this otherwise contemporary setting, but it kind of works. What I read for, though, is the revenge. The three main characters—they take turns narrating—are determined and sometimes unlikable, but I have to admire how they stand up for themselves. I can’t wait to see where the third book takes the story, especially since the girl I only mildly disliked in books one and two is now someone I can’t stand.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer drafting her first chapter must be in want of a knife. With which to end her misery.

Okay, I’m being dramatic, but for me writing chapter one is a lot like taking a sharp knife to my inessential organs (are there inessential organs? This I do not know) and reveling in the pain without ever passing out. It’s like yanking hairs from my head, one by one by one.

Basically, writing chapter one is torture for me, and I can’t make it stop. I can’t start anyone but chapter one—oh how I’ve tried to fool myself!—and I can’t get going until that first chapter is both written and pristine. I can more or less turn off my inner editor while writing the rest of my first draft, but not for that horrible, no-good, terrible chapter one. So I write and delete and repeat that process about seventy gazillion times.

That was me, the past two weeks. I have nine chapter ones saved in Scrivener. All suck but one. That one—on man, that one—I want to, I don’t know, buy it a beer or something. Because that chapter is the one. Will I change it during revisions? Yes. But it’s good enough that I can move on.

Here’s a quick, unedited excerpt that’s still not entirely right but at the moment right enough:
She spoke it aloud now, in the solitude of the cove. Her boots dug into the mossy ground and her head tilted to the sky and her teeth trapped the word at its end so she hissed like a snake. An unrestrained, unladylike laugh burst from deep in Asta’s belly. “Notorious,” she said again and again and it sounded a lot like “freedom.”

“Requiem for a Tower” from London Music Works puts me right into my fantasy story. It’s beautiful and epic and tense.

And while I can’t write to music with words, Phildel’s “The Wolf” has helped me get in the right mood before writing. 

I bought a house. Yes, that happened. It doesn’t seem real, but it’s true. I am officially an adult. It’s actually the same condo we’ve been renting for the past two years, but now the bills come to us.

I truly love this place, though. It has soaring ceilings and old wood beams. It has windows twice as tall as me and exposed brick that I absolutely love. During the Industrial Revolution it housed giant looms and dozens of girls working in the textile factory. There’s a museum two floors below, which The Man still hasn’t visited and which I haven’t been to since my fifth grade field trip to the mills.

It’s all very strange, knowing I own this place. But I love it and, if I’m being completely honest, I love that the process of buying a house is over. Also, not having to move all of our junk into a new place seriously rocks.

What have you been up to?

* Speaking of Katniss, did you all see the trailer for part one of the Mockingjay movie? It is as fantastic as I expected.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: Kinda, Sorta Hitting Goals

Here’s the deal: Ready, Set, Write! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability. Plus, it provides an opportunity for writers to cheer each other on—whether they’re planning, drafting, revising, and/or polishing a story. The event is hosted by Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman.

When I say “last week,” I mean “the last time I participated in RSW, which may or may not have been a week ago.” As of my last blog post, my goal was to start querying my sci-fi mystery WIP and world-build my fantasy WIP. Check and check.

Sort of.

I started querying, but only sent out two before I heard about Pitch Wars. I decided to give that a go, and am currently crossing my fingers my MS gets picked up. If not, it’s to the query trenches for me.

I’ve also been working my fantasy story, which is like nothing I’ve ever written before. I’m still a little totally and completely intimidated by creating an entirely new world, but it’s fun!

Finish world-building this fantasy WIP idea. For reals this time.

I haven’t begun writing the story yet, but as I was plotting, a scene came to me without warning. It’s between the two POV characters: a princess whose alter ego is the kingdom’s most fearsome thief and her personal guard, a knight also tasked by the king to find the thief and kill him. Here’s a piece of dialog from a scene late in the book, after the princess’ identity has been revealed.
“I admired you,” Galinn said. “I told myself that if I were to ever come upon this Black Thief, I’d ask him his secrets before I slit his throat.” 
Asta leaned in, the soft planes of her face made harsh in the flickering firelight. “And I told myself that if I happened upon my pursuer, I’d slit his throat and ask questions later.” 
This week my wrists were a bit sore, so I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. And, I’ll be honest, work pretty much screeched to a halt as soon as I got my hands on Isla and the Happily Ever After, which I’ll review in another post. (Spoiler alert: I loved it.)

I love the idea of hidden identities. There’s a bit of a Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing going on between two of my POV characters, and I love the keeping of secrets and the big reveal. 

How’s your planning/writing/revising going?